Williams will confront and fight racial and social injustice

Dear members of the Williams community,

What role should Williams College play in confronting and fighting racial and social injustice?

That’s a question I’ve been asked, and have been asking myself, with particular intensity in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others. Following my statement about these outrages, members of our community expressed hope that Williams would do more to fight anti-Black racism: to enhance our educational commitments with steps to confront an urgent social problem.

We can and must do more. We’ll pursue that work in four ways outlined below, which combine new ideas with existing strengths. Following is an outline, to which we’ll add detail as we work with faculty, staff and students in the weeks and months to come.

  • People: Williams’ greatest strength is in our community. We’ll create a new student engagement initiative through which the college will offer a suite of internships, fellowships, and other co-curricular offerings for students interested in working on racial justice issues, including race, policing and the carceral system; equal educational opportunity; and political participation. This will build on our history of engaged learning through the Center for Learning in Action, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the ’68 Center for Career Exploration, and others. The initiative will also include opportunities for staff and faculty.
  • Philanthropy: Williams will invest at least $500,000 over the next five years to specifically support racial justice organizations and efforts nationally and in our region. This, too, is consonant with the college’s long tradition of philanthropic support for our region and the world, as summarized in the recent report of the Williams in the World Strategic Planning working group.
  • Partnerships: Our human and financial support will also be part of a broad effort to create or extend Williams’ partnerships with organizations and educational institutions working for racial justice in the Berkshires and across the country.
  • Programming: The college generally, and the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (OIDEI) specifically, will further invest in and build up campus programming on related issues. To cite just one example, last week more than 500 staff, faculty, students, and community members attended Zoom panel discussions with senior leaders from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.; the Office of the Appellate Defender; and the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. Please reach out to Vice President of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leticia Smith-Evans Haynes ’99 and her OIDEI and Davis Center colleagues with your programming suggestions for 2020-21.

These steps will expand Williams’ commitments to positive change through a combination of education and engagement, connecting theoretical knowledge with efforts to solve real-world problems. They are steps, and only steps, on the road to a better world. I look forward to sharing details and to building on these commitments still further.